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Tablets may be getting the buzz, but don’t give up on netbooks just yet. Netbook manufacturers are including more features, bigger screens and keyboards, and faster parts. We walk you through the latest trends and tell you what features really matter in a netbook.

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  1. 1. January 4, 2012 Latest Netbook Shopping Tips T ablets may be getting the buzz, but don’t give of netbooks have evolved to include more features, up on netbooks just yet. Netbook manufac- bigger screens and keyboards, and faster parts—all turers are including more features, bigger while slashing prices like a Walmart special. screens and keyboards, and faster parts. We walk you through the latest trends and tell you what fea- Even though new netbooks aren’t launching at a tures really matter in a netbook. torrid pace, like they were a year ago, the choices are still mind boggling. They’re available from all sorts of household names, such as ASUS, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Dell, HP, and Lenovo. As a category, netbooks are such a diverse group that it’s hard to come up with a single, all-encompassing definition. The best indicators that you’re dealing with a net- book are a low price, light weight, and low-powered components. It’s likely the system will have a screen on the smaller side and a basic feature set. Still, net- books vary in screen size, typing experience, and specialty features. On the component side, AMD and Intel are silently going at it, though neither has launched any new chips in a while. Despite their current state, there are certainly enough netbooks that warrant further explanation. Luckily, this net- book buying guide does just that. The first batch of netbooks to hit the scene was greeted with awe and surprise. Those tiny laptops, which were once sold at a premium, could be had for half the price of a typical system seemed incre- dible. Since then, netbooks have taken a backseat to tablets, as the Apple iPad and countless “me-toos” have caused a lull in their production. Furthermore, full size laptops, which used to cost twice as much as netbooks, are now competing in this price range. But that doesn’t mean demand for netbooks have fizzled out completely. Sure, the stakes have risen, and netbooks manufacturers are now vying for a spot in a very tight space, which is why the latest crop Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 1
  2. 2. January 4, 2012 Latest Netbook Shopping Tips Larger Screens, Bigger Keyboards capabilities. You’re also more likely to find 3GB-4GB It’s generally easy enough to tell a netbook from memory configuration in AMD netbooks than from other laptops, but to distinguish between systems, Intel ones. The AMD E-350 APU, for instance, can you’ll need to do a little homework. In the past, be found in the Lenovo Ideapad S205, Acer Aspire screen sizes defaulted to 10-inches with 1,024-by- One 722-BZ480, and HP dm1z. 600 resolutions on almost every single netbook. These days, netbooks are breaking away from this Intel is already into its fourth generation of Atom trend. Oversized netbooks like the HP Pavilion processors, the most recent of which are the 1.6GHz dm1z and Lenovo ThinkPad X120e are sold with Intel Atom N455 and the 1.83GHz Intel Atom N475. 11.6-inch widescreens, while the Lenovo IdeaPad These are single-core processors that have been S12 (Ion) and the Asus EeePC 1215B are shipping updated with DDR3 memory support. The dual-core with 12-inch ones. And their resolutions, as a result, version—the 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550—can already are upped to HD-capable ones (1,366-by-768). be found in a handful of netbooks, and improves performance by up to 20% over the single-core Once upon a time, full-sized keyboards were few Atoms, without impacting battery life. and far between, but now they exist in netbooks as small as 10-inches. Case in point: The Toshiba mini NB305-N600, Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3, and Acer As- pire One D260-1270squeezed one in to their 10-inch frames. Since the vast majority of newer netbooks are launching with bigger screens (11-12-inches), a full size keyboard is guaranteed. Usual Array of Features, Some Exceptions Most netbooks provide an abundance of USB ports, Webcams, card readers, and built-in Wi-Fi. What they usually don’t come with is an optical drive. Some, like the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t and Dell Inspi- ron Duo, are convertible tablets that have a touchs- creen on a rotating hinge. Bluetooth is a frequently What to Consider bundled feature in netbooks, while embedded 3G Standard netbook batteries start with 3-cell (less modems, which can use cellular signals to acquire than 30Wh) units, but many netbooks are now broadband speeds, can be found in the HP Mini standardizing on 6-cell batteries. Our battery tests 5103 and Dell Inspiron Mini 10 (HD). have shown that the smaller batteries will get you anywhere from 2 to 3 hours of battery life on a single Atom Platform, Mostly charge, while the bigger ones range between 7 to It used to be that the Intel Atom platform, made 10 hours. If your activities include trips abroad and up of the Atom processor, integrated graphics, and all-day classes, consider looking for netbooks that memory (usually 1GB), was the most widely used ship with 6-cell options. You’ll also find two hard in a netbook. Now AMD, with its latest Fusion APUs, drive choices: solid-state drives (SSDs) and spinning has become a big presence in this space. Not only hard drives. The consensus is that spinning drives are AMD APUs faster any given Atom processor, but offer the best gigabyte-per-dollar ratio, and most they’re as battery efficient and have better graphics of them start with at least 250GB of storage space. Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 2
  3. 3. January 4, 2012 Latest Netbook Shopping Tips While SSDs have faster transfer speeds, are durable, and have longer life spans, they command much higher premiums than their spinning counterparts. In an extreme case, upgrading to a 128GB SSD in the HP 5103 will cost you an additional $400, more than the entire price of our review system. What You Can Do With Them Don’t underestimate the capabilities of these ma- chines. Netbooks are not just limited to Web surfing, compiling spreadsheets, or word processing. You can offload your photos from a digital camera and edit them using a program like Adobe Photoshop Elements 9. With lots of patience, you can transcode video to another format using Windows Media En- coder 11 or edit video footage using Adobe Premiere Elements 9, or run your entire music library off of a program like Apple iTunes. A netbook can play video from sites like YouTube or a movie from an external USB drive, unmarred by distortions and lag. Businesses, too, are considering these pint-size laptops because you can run various e-mail clients, put them on a network, install a VPN client, and secure them with antivirus and antispyware suites. At the price points we’re seeing in the netbook mar- ket—namely $300 to $500—sex appeal isn’t off limits either on a netbook. The HP 5103 has a sleek-looking aluminum frame, while the Toshiba NB305-N600 uses colors and textures in its favor. Though the future of netbooks remains a big question mark, what with the tablet boom and full size laptops that can be had for about the same price, the demand for them has not fizzled. There’s a wide selection for those who want a pint-sized laptop that won’t cost them an arm and a leg. You may also like: Did you enjoy this post? Why not leave a comment below and continue the conversation, or subscribe to my feed and get articles like this delivered auto- matically to your feed reader. Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 3